Frequent Shopper Cards: Big Savings and the Price of Privacy Paranoia

Frequent shopper cards (a/k/a customer loyalty cards) are a fine way to save money.  Common to most grocery and drug store chains, the frequent shopper card typically offers weekly discounts on a variety of products to card holders, and, unlike discount warehouse memberships, they are free.  I consider frequent shopper cards one of the standard tools of frugality.

But some folks, who specialize in cynicism, manage to find controversy even in these rewards programs.

I can still remember a day, years ago, when I was driving through Atlanta listening to talk radio man Neal Boortz.  At the time, Boortz was still a talk radio personality local to the Atlanta area.  He was raging pretty hard about Harris Teeter, a southeastern grocery store chain that had recently ventured into the Atlanta market.  (I believe it has since pulled out.)  The reason for Boortz’s ire?  Harris Teeter’s audacity to offer a VIC card, which is Harris Teeter’s frequent shopper discount card.   The Harris Teeter program also provides online access to additional goodies, such as e-VIC specials and coupons.

Harris Teeter’s program, it turns out, is particularly well run inasmuch as it maintains a database of each customer’s purchases.  The company uses this information to provide the customer with a weekly email advising of the VIC specials of the week, along with a feature that shows the customer which of his or her previously purchased items are among the week’s sale items.  Most frugal shoppers would appreciate this feature.

But not Neal Boortz.  In fact, this was Boortz’s beef with the program.  He did not like, at all, the thought of a store tracking his purchases and maintaining data on his spending habits.  A staunch libertarian, Boortz found this an intrusion on his privacy.  A fair number of folks share in this view: that such cards compromise personal privacy; that privacy interests far outweigh the savings that can be enjoyed from a frequent shopper discount program.

From a frugal living standpoint, I say it is a no-brainer.  In fact, I frankly don’t see the controversy.  I just don’t care if a grocer has a record of what cuts of beef and which flavor pop tarts I buy.  At the end of the day, there are only so many controversial purchases one can make in a grocery store, aren’t there?  Yes, I suppose as I age I may come to need certain products that I would prefer the world not know.  But my hunch is that Harris Teeter will have better things to do than piss off a regular customer by telling the world that he suffers from incontinence.  Besides, until that day, my grocery list is plenty bland enough that I could not care less if others know what I buy.

What I do care about is saving money, and these cards help me do it.  Big time.  In a typical weekly visit, I see $20-$30 in savings from use of my frequent shopper card.  By studying the weekly email, I am able to leverage the savings and combine them with coupons as well.  The wonderful irony is that you are free to obtain a card from as many competitor chains as you like, thus maximizing savings even more.

Don’t get me wrong, I value my privacy and, in fairness to Boortz, if I were a controversial celebrity figure, I probably would be much more circumspect about it.  But as long as I am a garden variety, regular Joe consumer, I will gladly accept any store’s offer for regular, weekly discounts – even if it means my historical preferences for deodorant and cookies are tracked.

Again, this blog is about practical frugal living.  Largely theoretical concerns about privacy interests have no place in this mission.

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6 Responses to Frequent Shopper Cards: Big Savings and the Price of Privacy Paranoia

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  5. jim says:

    Just trying to learn, new ways of living on a lot less, income & resources

  6. Pingback: Message to President Obama: There is No Free Lunch | Practical Frugal Living

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